Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Our Next Big Adventure: The Maghreb

A few years ago, Jennifer and I decided to venture out of our comfort zone and experience a new culture.  We chose Morocco.  We became enchanted with this ancient land and promised each other we would be back.  Morocco has got to be the most photogenic place on the planet.  I would encourage anyone reading this to go to Google, click images, and type in "Morocco".  Then scroll through a couple of hundred photos to see some of the rich colour, and culture.  The one thing you won't get from the images are the smells and the sounds.  They add to the sense of ancient about the place.

Now fast forward a couple of years.  We just had our 3rd son Ezra.  Jenn has been off of work for almost 2 years,  when she gets a phone call.  It is the Canadian foreign service.  They offer her a position with 1 year of French language training and 2 more years of training within her position before she is to become "rotational".  This means she will be taking posts around the world.  With each passing year we would see the list of cities available for post for that year.  We would spend nights imagining ourselves in those places which would only add to our desire for adventure.  

When we received the list in September 2013 it had the following options:  Santo Domingo, Abu Dhabi, Lima, Lagos, Columbo, Guangzhou, Rabat, Bridgetown, Brussels, Kabul, Caracas, San Salvador, Bangkok and a few others.

The one that stood out to us was RABAT.  This was our chance to get back to Morocco.  We put it atop our list and within 2 months were notified that we needed to prepare to move.  We are headed to Morocco.  

Currently we are trying to prepare all things for our posting in Morocco.  We have been contacted by various members of the church there (there is a small unofficial branch for the expats).  They seem wonderful.  We are trying to prepare our children for the adventure.  Anders thinks it is exciting because he found out they have lizards there!  

Sad to say but we are thin on family photos.  Here is the most recent one I could find with all of us on it.  Looking forward to our adventure in Africa:

Dear Diary, Meet Stradivarius

I Just realized looking back through some of these old posts that this was the closest thing I have to a journal (sad) so I had better try to get back to it a little more in order to have at least a sparse documentation of our life.

Here is what the cabin looks like now:

I found a farmer in Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette (about 10 miles away) that had a nice stand of white pines up on the mountain.  I purchased 45 of them.  They grow stronger and straighter up on the mountain because of the adverse winds and cooler conditions.  I recently heard that some researchers suspect this was the secret to the Stradivarius violin.  They found that during that time period Europe was going through a mini ice age which made the trees grow slower, which means they annual growth rings are closer together creating a harder, denser than average wood.

Here is what the logs looked like after felling the trees, removing the bark and then hand planing the cambium layer off.

The start of the dry fit of the logs

Then I rented a crane, dismantled the cabin and labelled the logs, and drove the 15 km up the road to where I had made the foundation the year before.  The crane was there a day and a half as we placed the logs 1 by 1.

A couple weeks later I was able to get  up there and frame in the roof and dormer with the help of my friend the carpenter.

For weeks I worked on the upstairs with no floor to stand on.  It was scary carrying materials and working while having to always make sure you were stepping on the part of the plank that wouldn't give way between the floor joists.  I never got comfortable with it but did it anyway.  I love the views of the lake out the windows. They are electric greens and blues.

The windows and doors were made by my friend Fritz.  He is a german master craftsman and has taught me things about wood I had no idea man had discovered.  They have tilt and turn german hardware and are made of Mohagany.  Low E argon insulated glass, 3 coates of stain before any hardware or glass is installed and all for the price of the cheap white pvc window.  He bought an old mine 2 villages up the highway and has set it up with many German, Italian and Japanese industrial machines for planing, joining, sawing etc.  He even has a machine that takes all his sawdust and compresses it into wood bricks for his stove.  He also makes his own biodiesel.  He tells me that when I am ready, he will supervise me and allow me to make our kitchen on his machines.  His company is called "Boiserie Traditionel"

Next I had the sawmill across the road saw some nice thick pine beams so we could build a nice rustic staircase.  The floor is concrete.  After this photo was taken I had some professionals come in and diamond grind the concrete to a shiny polished smooth surface.  It looks very earthy but clean.  You can see little pebbles in it almost like there was an inch of epoxy on top.

Below is the side that faces the lake.  We put a nice porch on it to watch the thunderstorms.  In this photo we can see the roof jacks and safety boards are still on the roof.  I had just finished installing the roof.  The roofing material looks exactly like a cedar shingle but it is made of 100% recycled polyolefin plastic.  It will last well over a century with no maintenance required.  It is good to keep this material out of the landfill too.

Below is a shot of the porch.  Eventually when everything else gets done I plan to find a way to screen it in for mosquito season.

Here I've added all of the insulation, vapour barrier and tongue and grove panelling to the ceiling upstairs, drywalled in the interior walls, and I guess I'd better explain the fish since you've no doubt been straing at it.  Because this side of the house has a long shed dormer that runs the length of the building, the purlin on this side of the house isn't symmetrical with the purlin on the back side of the house.  So we put in 2 fake purlins.  So from the outside it looks symmetrical but since it is fake, we didn't run it right through the house.  Instead there was just 6 feet of log sticking out into the room on either end of the cabin.  So I had a buddy who does chainsaw carvings come in and do a pike in this room nd a trout in the other room.  I like it.  Jenn thinks its a little wonky.  The way I see it, if she wins and we cut it down I can NEVER have my way.  If I win and we keep it up, she can still get her way one day down the road.

I found an old beech tree that had been cut and sitting for a couple of years.  I brought it to the mill and had some posts sawn.  Brought it to see Fritz with the design I wanted and he set me free on his machines to make the kitchen.  This is the rough frame of the island.

My poor family has shared me with the cabin for so long that we decided to change it from a work site to something somewhat livable.  Now we all go and enjoy the cabin together.  We've even rented it a bunch of times by word of mouth.  However, I am finding that with everything in there, and the will to enjoy it, my progress on the finishing has slowed to a trickle.

We named the company that will rent and maintain the cabin Chalet Life.  the website is Chaletlife.com.

We named the building "Nauvoo Haus".  It is a little German twist to a building that was commissioned to be built in Nauvoo in the mid 19th century as a hotel / guesthouse for any travellers who were coming to discover the Mormon settlement in Illinois.  It was to be dedicated to be a "delightful habitation for man, and a resting place for the weary traveller that he may contemplate the glory of Zion" (Doctrine and Covenants 124: 60)

Here are the verses in section 124 that deal with Nauvoo House.  I liked learning about it and thought there were many parallels with what I wanted this place to be.

 22 Let my servant George, and my servant Lyman, and my servant John Snider, and others, build a ahouse unto my name, such a one as my servant Joseph shall show unto them, upon the place which he shall show unto them also.
 23 And it shall be for a house for boarding, a house that strangers may come from afar to lodge therein; therefore let it be a good house, worthy of all acceptation, that the weary atraveler may find health and safety while he shall contemplate the word of the Lord; and the bcornerstone I have appointed for Zion.
 24 This house shall be a healthful habitation if it be built unto my name, and if the governor which shall be appointed unto it shall not suffer any pollution to come upon it. It shall be holy, or the Lord your God will not adwell therein.
 56 And now I say unto you, as pertaining to my boarding ahousewhich I have commanded you to build for the boarding of strangers, let it be built unto my name, and let my name be named upon it, and let my servant Joseph and his house have place therein, from generation to generation.
60 And let the name of that house be called aNauvoo House; and let it be a delightful habitation for man, and a resting-place for the weary traveler, that he may contemplate the glory of Zion, and the glory of this, the cornerstone thereof;

Le Montage

So we found a beautiful stand of White pines up in the mountains about 13 miles south of la salette. I went to meet with a logging company who had purchased the rights to the sector and managed to mark out 45 of their largest trees for the cabin. Although we only needed 38, it is safe to go with a few more so you always have the right log for the right place. I gave the loggers $10 500 cash right there in the bush with a handshake that the logs would be delivered to our dry in site. Pretty stupid now that I think of it, even if I had him scribble a receipt on the back of a business card.

If you are wondering what a "dry-in" site is I will explain. It is a convenient location to build a log cabin. In this case it was an open field with a crane, electricity and a shipping container to lock our tools in. This is where we will build the cabin only to be later dissasembled and shipped up to our foundation where it will be re-assembled and remain for the next century or so (hopefully).

I contracted a man named Jim Flynn (Flynn log homes) It turns out he was slow this year (like no projects at all) and so was more disposed to take pity on this poor boy with high hopes. He cut me a deal. Then he lowered it when I commited to help 2 days a week for the next 2 months. We settled at $25 000 for the shell. (I feel weird publicizing the numbers but I have already started a running talley on the previous post to fully document the project).

The last week in March was "Go day" we double checked the measurements of my foundation (which was out by 3 inches in one corner because I'm a salesman not a builder). Next we went and levelled the dry in site and squared it to match my foundation. Early April we were having some pretty warm weather and by this time my logs had thawed and we started to peel them. When logs are cut in the summer they peel like a banana because the sap is running. However, ours were winter cut. This is advantages not for peeling but for keeping out bugs. If you summer cut then you need to work them quick and cant take time to set up or the bugs will get in them.

Logs can be peeled with a draw knife or a spud. Since I had neither, I brought an ice pick and a third guy we had hired to help us, Michel ( I like him alot, a humble man who is patient and likes to teach - reminds me of my father a bit) took my ice pick and put it on the grinder to round out the edges so it would slice through the bark better. So I ended up using a modified ice pick which didnt' work well at all, or so I thought. It turns out that the ice pick actually worked out relatively well, the problem was that it was hard work and it has been a while since I've put these bones to a good rattlin.

After the peeling we took a pressure washer to remove the cambrium layer so as to leave nothing to desire for the bugs. We could now let the logs sit until we needed them.

Most of my days after that were spent planing the logs. I used a hand planer and planed every square inch of every log before we used it. It was a grueling job that started out taking 2 hours a log and in my prime I was able to knock one out in about 45 minutes depending on the knots and crevices to navigate. This step made the logs look gorgeous and they became easier to scribe and notch a tight fit as well. I also spend alot of time strapping up for the crane and then placing them where they were to go. I didn't do the scribing but I observed and took notes. There are so many little nuances to the entire process I think I would have to do another project or two before I felt comfortable to try one unassisted.

I never took the crane for granted. Even to the end I was amazed at how dependant we were on that crane and how beautiful it was to work with it. It was a 100' boom extention on a 23 tonne crane that Jim bought second hand. I often felt how I think the soldiers in Afghanastan might feel working with air support. It is like a magical hand drops from the sky with what you want when you want it and where you want it. Just hook up the log you want moved and then walk to where you want it moved and Voila, it drops from the sky.

It was so exciting to see the walls going up one by one. The scribes were tight. There are no spaces and no need for chinking. Jim said this was the first cabin he has done where the customer had requested a full upstairs. They always do a half loft or mezzanine to overlook the great room. But I wanted living area because I was afraid this was money for a too tiny of a cabin. We are now very comfortable with the space this cabin will provide.

Next comes "Le Montage". The erecting. There were a couple things that had to be done before the cabin could go on the foundation. The problem was that I had gotten ahead of myself and booked a crane to show up on the property on a certain day to unload the cabin. This send us scrambling. Nothing was more important now because the crane was booked and a hefty down payment made. If you are wondering why we didn't use Jims crane it was because it wasnt big enough to boom the logs as far as we needed and he didn't have a license for it so he cant operate it off his property. The crane rental cost us $160/ hour and it was a 2 day project! During "le montage" I felt like I did when I sat in my car praying and yes, crying, as I watched the drillers drill our well at $25.00 / foot a couple years ago. Anyhows, I digress....... scrambling.....oh yes...... So we were scrambling to be ready for the crane. The logging truck that